Backyard Crowd Pullers
I was an adolescent those days. I had been to a matinee one fine afternoon. At the cinema it was the movie, Pakeeza, screened for the first time in the town then. It was advertised as a soul-stirring movie. Eagerly I joined, what initially looked like, a single line in front of the box-office window. The crowd soon thickened. A good number of lines was spontaneously formed, parallel to the line I was standing in, and eventually all of them led to the same goal/ hole. Stampede followed in those seamless queues.
In the mêlée I could barely feel the ground, and I got frightened. I managed to see a weary expression on the clerk behind the glass, above the ticket issuing hole. My elevated position meant it was the others who hoisted me. I managed to put my hand in my shirt pocket and pulled out the only money I had, that was a Two Rupee Note, and I tendered the same at the counter as and when I sailed to the same. My hands were clamped between two heavy forearms whose owners were squeezing me from the either side. Terror gripped me as I was losing my breath and turned dizzy. Mercifully, I was pushed aside and duly thrown out by the swarming crowds into a clearing in the lawn next to the ticket counter.
Meena Kumari happened to be the heroine in that movie. She was known to be a queen of tragedy, besides a good dancer of course. I collected myself up and brushed the dirt off my clothes. I decided to leave for home. Exactly then, I found something stuck in the inside of my shirt pocket. To my surprise it was a ticket for the show. How on earth it got there I had the least knowledge. It must be someone who succeeded in grabbing the ticket ahead of me. He could have slipped it into my shirt pocket thinking it was his own.
But I did not grow out from that ‘near death’ feeling of a fear, especially at the ticket counters anywhere till now. Nor can I forget the popular haunting number ‘Chalte-Chalte’ from the movie, especially when I happen to be in moving trains. That number was shot in the film when a train was passing over a bridge as backdrop. Meena Kumari too was moving then, but she was in her waltzes, when the train was passing.
My unpleasant experience among the crowds at the cinemas is a commonplace thing in our populous country. It is no different in the temples, especially in the sanctum sanctorum of any sacred and popular temple, where the god stands or sits as a mute witness— probably He or She must be thinking how much He/She is in demand as crowd pullers vis-à-vis the rest of the pantheon.
We are a nation of autonomous crowds, and one can imagine their size vis-à-vis our population. Also, we are relatively less policed compared to the western societies, coming to crowd control techniques.
There are many instances resulting in a sudden and impromptu bursting of crowds, a la cloud bursting. One such is a short-circuited connection near podiums at political or social or more recently protest gatherings. Various examples go like these: free alms/ Prasad distribution, release of scarce goods and produce as rations to the public, precious vacant seats in trains in the unreserved bogies, sensational appearances of matinee idols or item girls of repute at the opening ceremonies of shops or events (earlier it used to be politicians who used to pull those unexpected crowds), admission time in the educational institutions, and distribution of free passes for the cricket matches and gala evenings among others that one notices without fail or experiences by default for no fault of anyone.
If we are improved in our civic sense and our rulers got more responsible as the governments, this menace of unruly crowds and the resultant hardship will be a thing of the past.
(My another version appeared in the New Indian Express way back)
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